Friday, 26 October 2018

More About Dye Prints from Coloured Autumn Leaves

My companion, Elinor Gotland, kicked her way through a large pile of leaves. 
"I think it's time you swept this patio, Beaut."
I squinted up at the sunlight pouring through the bare grape vines.
"Hmm, well, it does look like the leaves have nearly all fallen now." 
As I racked my brain for an excuse not to fetch the broom, autumn leaf prints came to mind.
"Ooo, Elinor, remember those scarves I printed for you last month, when these red vine leaves were fresh? Well, I kept them in a shoe box to cure, hoping four week's delay would help fix the colour, but when I washed them yesterday, the pink mostly turned to green."

"Hah, bet you used washing powder and the alkali modified the leaf dye colour."
"No, really, I used pH neutral wool wash liquid. I think the anthocyanin dyes have to have an acid environment to stay pink or purple, even plain water raises their pH too much."
Elinor studied a scarf.
"Well, the leaf prints that were darkest still have a moody purple in them and the green is quite nice anyway, but it won't match my new outfit. Sort it out, would you, I'm off to London this afternoon."
"Sorry, can't oblige. I did tell you that colour wouldn't last."
"Oh, get a grip, Beaut. Just soak the scarf in vinegar - no, make that lemon juice, I don't want to smell like a chip shop."

Rather to my surprise, the green prints shifted back toward red within seconds of soaking in a bowl of hot water with the juice of one lemon. 
I think the vine that has the black grapes and red autumn leaves is called Vitis vinifera purpurea. I may have masses of leaves to sweep up, but I don't regret not dyeing more scarves with them. The anthocyanin colours are generally too fickle, I can't tell customers always to rinse them in lemon juice. Apart from whichI shall have to wait and see if this purple has any better lightfastness than the berry dyes. Maybe dipping the leaves in iron before steaming will have helped.

All this musing on the instability of anthocyanin dyes set me off on a minor panic. In September, I also printed several scarves with smoke bush leaves (Cotinus). Once the leaves had turned from dark green to deep purple, I found they made blue prints when dipped in dilute iron solution and steamed in a bundle. Since the blue did not shift or disappear when washed in the machine at 30 degrees Centigrade with pH neutral detergent, I took a couple to sell in Crafts by the Sea. The scarves don't get full sun all day, like things in the window, but the shop is bright, as it faces straight out onto the coast and the sunset views can be spectacular. Over the years, I've found my display area has provided a fair test of lightfastness, because sales in the shop are rarely brisk. Sod's Law, a couple of the smoke bush printed scarves had already been sold, so it was with some anxiety that I took the remaining one back down from its hanger to compare it with another I'd brought from home, which had been sitting inside a shoe box.

I am pleased and relieved and maybe a bit surprised to report that although blue plant dyes (apart from indigo) are notorious for fading to grey, six weeks in a well lit room had not diminished the blue from smoke bush prints. Individual leaf prints do vary in depth of colour, but overall, there's nothing to choose between the two scarves. The one on the left has been on display, the one on the right has been in the shoe box. Looking critically at the deep blue flower prints, I do think they have faded slightly. You may not believe this, but those flower prints come from a species of coreopsis. I picked up a couple of little plants in a garden centre some time last summer, and I wish I'd kept a note of the name.
I've never had enough flowers all at once to make a dye bath, but since the plants have carried on flowering through the autumn, I've been adding a few now and then to my steamed leaf print bundles. Unlike all the other types of coreopsis I've grown, which print orange to bronze colours, this kind gives an orange centre surrounded by blue petals. It's quite a small plant, only 20cm tall at best. I must save some seeds, though probably they will have been cross pollinated with the other kinds of coreopsis in the garden. I was thinking, that'll be a bit of excitement, seeing what grows next year, only I didn't get much peace to savour the anticipation.
"Hurry up and iron that scarf, Beaut. I need to be off in five minutes or I'll miss my train." My companion tapped her hoof and strode up and down the kitchen while I set up the ironing board. "Don't stand there gawping, get on with it."
"Just look at this, Elinor!"
I was astonished once again. 

Not only had the vine leaf prints gone back to pink and purple, the acid from the lemons had turned the blue coreopsis petal prints purple too.
"Yes, yes, fair play, well done." Disdaining even to look at the green one, my companion grabbed the acid rinsed scarf and disappeared out the front door in a pink swirl of lemon scented silk satin.


  1. Very pretty Fran, you are a wealth of information!

    Been babying my dyer's chamomile you sent me...only 1 plant but it's healthy. My dying garden is mostly in the orchard, have weld, amaranth, madder and chamomile...have cosmos and coreopsis and black hollyhock in with the veggies. Looking forward to dying some wool!